A flower that has never known the sun and a flower that has encountered the sun are not the same. They cannot be. A flower that has never known the sunrise has never known the sun to rise within itself. It is dead; it is just a potentiality. It has never known its own spirit. But a flower that has seen the sun rise has also seen something arise within itself. It has known its own soul. Now the flower is not just a flower; it has known a deep, stirring innerness.
How can we create this innerness within ourselves? Buddha invented a method, one of the most powerful methods, for creating an inner sun of awareness. And not only for creating it: the method is such that it not only creates this inner awareness but simultaneously allows the awareness to penetrate to the very cells of the body, to the whole of one’s being. The method that Buddha used is known as Anapana-sati Yoga – the yoga of incoming and outgoing breath awareness.
We are breathing, but it is unconscious breathing. Breath is prana, breath is the élan vital – the vitality, the very life – and yet it is unconscious; you are not aware of it. And if you had to be aware of breathing in order to breathe, you would die. Sooner or later you would forget: you cannot continuously remember anything.
Breathing is a link between our voluntary and our involuntary systems. We can control our breathing to a certain extent, we can even stop our breathing for a while, but we cannot stop it permanently. It goes on without us; it does not depend on us. Even if you are in a coma for months, you will go on breathing; it is an unconscious mechanism.
Buddha used breath as a vehicle to do two things simultaneously: one, to create consciousness, and another, to allow that consciousness to penetrate to the very cells of the body. He said, “Breathe consciously.” This does not mean to do pranayama – yogic breathing; it is just to make breath an object of awareness, without changing it.
There is no need to change your breath. Leave it as it is, natural; do not change it. But when you breathe in, breathe consciously; let your consciousness move with the ingoing breath. And when the breath goes out, let your consciousness move out with it.
Move with the breath. Let your attention be with the breath; flow with it. Do not forget even a single breath. Buddha is reported to have said that if you can be aware of your breath for even a single hour, you are already enlightened. But not a single breath should be missed.
One hour is enough. It looks like such a small fragment of time, but it is not. When you are trying to be aware, an hour can seem like a millennium, because ordinarily you cannot be aware for more than five or six seconds. Only a very alert person can be aware for even that long. Most of us miss every second. You may start by being aware as the breath is going in, but no sooner has it gone in when you are somewhere else. Suddenly you remember that the breath is going out. It has already gone out, but you were somewhere else.
To be conscious of the breath means that no thoughts can be allowed, because thoughts will distract your attention. Buddha never says, “Stop thinking.” He says, “Breathe consciously.” Automatically, thinking will stop; you cannot both think and breathe consciously. When a thought comes into your mind, your attention is withdrawn from the breathing. A single thought and you have become unconscious of the breathing process.
Buddha used this technique. It is a simple one, but a very vital one. He would say to his bhikkhus, his monks, “Do whatsoever you are doing, but do not forget a simple thing: remember the incoming and the outgoing breath. Move with it, flow with it.”
The more you try to do it, the more you endeavor to do it, the more conscious you will become. It is arduous, it is difficult, but once you can do it, you will have become a different person, a different being in a different world.
This works in another way, too. When you consciously breathe in and out, by and by you come to your center, because your breath touches the very center of your being. Every moment that the breath goes in, it touches the center of your being.
Physiologically you think that breath is just for the purification of the blood, that it is just a bodily function. But if you begin to be aware of your breath, by and by you will go deeper than physiology. Then one day you will begin to feel your center, right near your navel.
This center can be felt only if you move with the breath continuously, because the nearer you reach to the center, the more difficult it will be to remain aware. You can start when the breath is going in. When it is just entering your nose, begin to be aware of it. The more inward it moves, the more difficult awareness will become. A thought will come, or some sound, or something will happen, and you will move away.
If you can go to the very center, for a brief moment breath stops and there is a gap. The breath goes in, the breath goes out: between the two there is a subtle gap. That gap is your center.
Only after practicing breath awareness for a long time – when you are finally able to remain with the breath, to be aware of the breath – will you become aware of the gap when there is no movement of breath; breath is neither coming in nor going out. In the subtle gap between breaths, you are at your center. So breath awareness was used by Buddha as a means of coming nearer and nearer to the center.
When you breathe out, remain conscious of the breath. Again there is a gap. There are two gaps: one gap after the breath has come in and before it goes out again, and another gap after the breath has gone out and before it comes in again. This second gap is more difficult to be aware of.
Between the incoming breath and the outgoing breath is your center. But there is another center, the cosmic center. You may call it “god.” In the gap between when the breath goes out and when it comes in is the cosmic center. These two centers are not two different things. First you will become aware of your inner center, and then you will become aware of the outer center. Ultimately, you will come to know that both these centers are one. Then “out” and “in” will lose their meaning.
Buddha says, “Move consciously with the breath and you will create a center of awareness within you.” Once this center is created, awareness begins to move to your very cells, because every cell needs oxygen, every cell breathes, so to speak.
Now scientists say that even the earth breathes. When the whole universe is breathing in, it expands; when the whole universe breathes out, it contracts. In old Hindu mythological scriptures, puranas, it is said that creation is Brahma’s one breath – incoming breath – and destruction, pralaya, the end of the world, will be the outgoing breath. One breath is one creation.
In a very miniature way, in a very atomic way, the same thing is happening in you. And when your awareness becomes one with breathing, breathing takes your awareness to your very cells. Then your whole body becomes the universe. Really, then you have no material body at all. You are just awareness.
From Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy, Appendix